By Rita Clifton [head of Interband]
Financial Times April 30 2003
Book Review: The Alchemy of Brand-Led Growth
By Mark Sherrington
Inevitably, I feel positively biased towards a book that says "Respect to Interbrand" (my company) in its closing pages. Nevertheless, from any point of view this is a highly readable, engaging and practical book about real marketing and what it can achieve in successful growth for a wide range of businesses.
Mark Sherrington writes with the wit and wisdom of someone who has been there, done that, consulted on it, made mistakes and lived to tell a good tale. This is not surprising in view of his background. Mr Sherrington is a former Unilever senior marketer, who founded a successful marketing consultancy, Added Value, and has now returned to the client world as global marketing director with South African Breweries.
His is an informal writing style, packed with examples and anecdotes; a refreshing change from the dry academic prose and flow charts that beset so many marketing textbooks.
Having said that, the book has its fair share of process diagrams, matrices and strategic models; terms such as "the five Ws", "the four As" and various "Rs" and "Ps" are sprinkled around.
And, in fact, the book is structured around what he terms "the five Is": Insight, Ideas, Innovation, Impact and Investment Return.
The section on Insight explains how it can come from anywhere: the market, technology, the competition, history, trends or the value chain. The fact that the book warns readers to "beware of consumers as a source of insight" may come as a surprise to those accustomed to marketing directors saying "the consumer is king".
Many modern practitioners, however, might well agree with Henry Ford's observation that "If I'd listened to my consumers, I'd have given them a faster horse".
The rest of the Insight section lists examples that have changed markets: Direct Line analysing the imbalance of benefit and cost in the conventional intermediary route to insurance sales and resolving to sell direct by telephone; the use of experts and opinion leaders rather than mass consumers in developing Levi's Engineered Jeans; the way that Walker's resolved to focus its resources on one power brand, when competitors such as Golden Wonder and United Biscuits were busy fragmenting into multi-brand-itis.
The next section, on Ideas, describes the discipline of generating business- transforming ideas. It covers defining and mapping markets, brand positioning, portfolios and extensions. In distinguishing between strategy and ideas, the author rightly points out that "nobody ever implemented a long strategic document; people implement ideas".
In the next chapter, Innovation is also explained as a disciplined business process, while arguing the importance of constructing real prototypes rather than working with theoretical concepts.
"Impact" then advises how to get ideas seen by the right people, in the right place, at the right time and is provocative in challenging the TV-advertising dominant approach. It covers budget-setting, taking a 360-degree approach to impact planning, episodic marketing (for which read "word of mouth"); developing creative work and the importance of internal communications.
But it is the last section, on Investment Return, that may come as a pleasant surprise to those who think that marketing is almost by definition a "loose" discipline.
It is difficult to disagree with Mr Sherrington that "modern marketers should be as fluent in the language of finance as they are in the dialects of advertising, design or branding" - particularly to ensure the place of marketing in the boardroom.
If there are any gripes about the book, in places it is a bit of a commercial for the approaches of his old consultancy; and if there had been one more reference to football or sporting analogies I might have screamed.
Also, I am not sure that the book's subtitle, "The Alchemy of Brand-led Growth" will click with the language of the boardroom.
Still, this is an excellent practitioner-based book for those interested in marketing and company growth - which, it is to be hoped, is just about everyone in business. Mr Sherrington has a gift for simplifying complexity and jargon. His summaries of "The Stuff That Gets In The Way" at the end of each chapter are a particular triumph. So many great plans and ideas get blocked by corporate politics and lack of determined implementation. It is refreshing to have this practical and wise perspective here - and indeed throughout the book.